NRF 2018: This is only the beginning of voice commerce, says Google

Despite a twenty-year investment in voice search to date, Michael Haswell, Google’s director of global business development, retail and shopping, said the tech giant is only in the “very, very, very early stages with voice.”

Despite its relative immaturity, Haswell advocates investment in voice search, on the grounds that Google believes “voice can be as disruptive to eCommerce as mobile was to desktop.”

Voice search, he explained, needs to be intelligent and personal: “It’s also ubiquitous.”

Google’s partnership with Walmart, announced in the autumn of 2017, was formed on the basis of the current user-case for voice – shopping replenishment.

“When you say to your [Google Home Speaker], ‘OK Google, buy peanut butter,’ you don’t specify the exact brand of peanut butter. Even though you know which peanut butter brand you need,” he explained.

The partnership with Walmart takes the consumer data and pairs it with purchase history data so Google is able to suggest the brand of peanut butter you usually buy from Walmart.

 “You don’t need to build all this stuff, but you need to have these components,” he said, speaking at the NRF event in NYC this week. “So I would ruthlessly partner, to get to market and to test now. “

The primary current use of voice search is replenishment, “because it has very low cognitive load”. Where it really gets interesting, said Haswell, is where retail can accelerate from a voice search perspective. “The questions like, ‘what time of year is the event? What time in the evening?  What’s the colour palette? Help me pick out an outfit?’”

Haswell referred to a Salesforce survey released in 2017. “More than half of millennials expressed disappointment that when they walk into a physical location, the associate has no knowledge of their online research,” he said. “They want you to see what they have been looking at, they don’t want to start from ground zero, so it’s about ubiquity.”

Voice search can create an experiential experience, explained Haswell. “There’s a well-known venture capitalist in the valley that says ‘eCommerce is great for buying, but not for shopping.’ As you bring in these natural elements, what’s really great about voice is that technology is adapting to humans as opposed to than humans adapting to technology. It’s no longer a command prompt or a structured query. It’s ‘this is what I’m thinking.’”

Google’s objective is to connect customer’s intent with action. “Machines aren’t going to take over retail. They can help you do the heavy-lifting so you can engage your stylists and creatives. We’re trying to drive some consistency in the voice landscape so we can enable retailers to focus on their means of differentiation,” he concluded.